Are you aware of the subtle influence that music has on your consciousness? Music has the power to lift us up or to pull us down; it can bring out the best in us or it can bring out the worst. That’s why the masters tell us that music is a divine art, not just entertainment.
“Sound or vibration is the most powerful force in the universe. Music is a divine art, to be used not only for pleasure but as a path to God-realization. Vibrations resulting from devotional singing lead to attunement with the Cosmic Vibration.”
— Paramhansa Yogananda
Out of our direct personal experience with the power of music, the concept of Radio Ananda was born. The main goal of this internet station is to share the inspiring consciousness emanating from Swami Kriyananda’s music with seekers everywhere.
Panduranga, one of the artists often heard on Radio Ananda, recently came out with a new instrumental album entitled, “Life is a Dream: Enchanting Music of Swami Kriyananda.” This seemed like an opportune time to discuss with him such subjects as: How did he come to be playing this divine music? Has working with the music changed him? What kind of creative process does he go through in producing his albums?
Having been musical friends for over 25 years, it was a pleasure for me to interview Panduranga on one of our favorite subjects — Ananda music!
Nalini: Over the years you’ve had experience with all kinds of music. Tell us a little about your musical history. How did you go from playing in rock and roll bands to playing Kriyananda’s uplifting music in kirtans and concerts?
Panduranga: I was really fortunate: At the age of 13, my brother gifted me with guitar lessons for my thirteenth birthday. It was my first real musical experience; before that, I’d only sung in the children’s choir at church. So at the age of 13, I started playing guitar and really put my whole heart and soul into it.
I wasn’t much interested in reading music; I cared more about creating the sound. Interestingly enough, over time I realized people tend to follow one of two tracks in music. If they learn to read music and become proficient at it, they can perform nearly anything. But often these people are not that good at improvising and using their intuition.
Whereas I am at the other end of the spectrum; everything I do is more intuitional and improvisational. I can read music, but it’s a chore. I think that’s helped me a lot in my music, because everything comes more from inside, from feeling the inspiration.
That’s how my musical career started. I went through periods of playing in rock and roll bands from the time I was in my early 20s until I was almost 40. For a couple of years I played professionally, actually traveling around the country, playing six nights a week and making 200 dollars a week doing that!
After that, I became more serious and went to architecture school, but I kept the music up, playing in bands and also on my own.
Then, as time went on, I actually became a devotee of Yogananda. That came through music; because in the ’70s, I heard an album by Yes, and there was a liner note that mentioned Autobiography of a Yogi. That really piqued my interest, because an autobiography would be written by someone who actually knows yoga, lives yoga, is yoga. So I was always interested in that book, but it wasn’t until about a decade later, when I was in architecture school, that I went to a bookstore and saw Autobiography of a Yogi.
I immediately grabbed the book and read it. It spoke to me directly, and I felt, “This is my path; this is my teacher; this is my guru.” So, from there, I took the Self-Realization Fellowship lessons and really dove into the teachings.
Well, long story short, a few years later I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I couldn’t find any connection there with Master, so I just prayed, “I want to get connected with you.” About that time an architect friend from Dallas invited me to come down to review his work and maybe go to work for him, so I went to Dallas for a few days’ vacation. He showed me all around, and as we were leaving the last house he said, “Oh, I forgot to show you the meditation room.” So he took me to the meditation room, and as I walked in, my hair stood up on end, literally – I was just blasted by the love and energy of the masters. It was Master’s message to me, “You’ve found what you’ve been looking for here in Dallas.”
So I went back to Milwaukee, gave two weeks’ notice, and moved to Dallas.
How “New Records” Changed My Life!
P: From that point on, I became deeply involved in the Ananda Dallas music group and the Dallas community. I was there for three and a half years before I moved to Ananda Village. To the Dallas music scene, I brought all of my experience from playing 20 years in rock and roll bands. I learned to play the Festival of Light, which was very useful, but this is also where I learned a great lesson about the power of music — because I have always had music going in my head. Day and night, there’s been a “record” playing.
This “record” was usually something that I was interested in, or learning to play, or something that just struck my fancy, and I heard it in my mind constantly. But once I found Master and Ananda and Ananda’s music, I took off the old records, and I put on the new records. The new records were usually chants by Master or Swamiji.
From there my life changed completely because I always had this devotional music going through my head. That is also when I changed my music to be more heartfelt — to take all those feelings and to feel the music in my heart. And after that, the heart’s where the music would originate.
N: We know Swamiji has composed over 400 pieces, so how did you choose the music for this album?
P: This recording, “Life is a Dream,” is actually my second CD. The first CD, “From Joy I Came,” was all Yogananda chants (“Cosmic Chants”). This second CD, “Life is a Dream,” is all Swami Kriyananda’s compositions. I wanted to include songs that Swami had written, as well as chants, because they’re heartfelt in different ways. The reason I do instrumental music is for japa – like a record always playing in the background. I find instrumental music is very good for that because you can have it on and still be inconspicuous. You can play it at work, you can have it on in the car, and it just permeates your consciousness.
Intuition — Learning to Trust Yourself
N: You have also been very productive in the realm of architecture. Is the creative process similar to that of music? I’d like to hear more about creativity in both fields. What are the similarities and differences?
P: It’s interesting that before I came to Ananda I really had two other careers. I had the career of being an architect, and a career as a musician, both professionally, where that’s all I did for a living. And for me, they’re similar in their creative process, in that it really involves intuition. You have to start with learning how to do the task, how to do the architecture or the music, but then it really comes down to intuition, to how you perform or create with that. And that was a process of learning to trust myself. I learned that specifically, I think, in music first, because I did that professionally, traveling and playing for a couple of years. I was the only guitarist in the band, so I was responsible for a lot of the lead guitar work and for being creative and improvisational.
I learned to really enjoy letting the intuition flow. Then when I became an architect, I transferred that into the design aspect. It was harder in architecture, because you’re creating something that people are going to live in or use, and it’s something concrete, literally, versus music which comes and goes. In architecture, I’ve come to develop trust in my intuition, and over the years of being the architect here at Ananda — designing and building temples, schools, and the retreat center — I’ve learned to trust it even more.
Master will flow through you if you open yourself up to his guidance. I’ve learned that you can put the ego aside and become a channel for Swami and Master by trusting yourself and the tools you know and that you have to produce something that’s beautiful and can inspire people.
How Intuition Helps with Spiritual Growth
N: Panduranga, how does being creative help you to grow spiritually?
P: In a spiritual aspect, I think learning to trust myself and my intuition, allowing that flow to happen, has really helped my spiritual growth, because it enables me to relax into myself, into what I feel, and to understand that the intuition is really coming from somewhere else. It’s not coming from the ego, but from a greater reality, from the vibrations of these songs being in the ether.
I feel the same thing with architecture. The architecture is already in the ether and to bring that into manifestation is identical to doing that with the music.
Let me explain how that really happens (Builders’ Satsang at Ananda’s 50th Anniversary Celebration). I firmly believe and I know — we’re living in this material world, but in the causal world, this temple has been here all along. And I really see Babaji as the chief architect of this. He manifested Lahiri’s golden palace (temple) for him. My whole design process has always been praying to Master and Babaji to inspire me to help bring this temple to fruition.
So to trust yourself, and to be open to inner guidance is, I think, a real asset on the spiritual path. In meditation, I trust where I’m going is where God wants to lead me, so I go deep into that feeling, and allow myself just to go with that flow.
Tuning into Master’s Radio
N: We know that Swamiji was prone to saying, “If you want to get to know me, listen to my music.” Yet, I’ve found it is even more powerful when we play and sing the music and make it part of ourselves – it’s a transforming experience. I’d like to hear from you personally, how do you know Swami, having played and worked with his music all these years?
P: What I find is that when I dive deep into the songs, I really try to tune into Swami’s consciousness. The one specifically that took me deep was “Sri Yogananda.” If you think about it, Swami was with Master for years, and he had a personal relationship with him. We have a spiritual relationship with our guru, but we haven’t had that physical contact. “Sri Yogananda” — when I started thinking about it — it’s really Swami just talking to Master, and with his consciousness and his knowledge of Master saying, “Fill me with your presence; I want to be one with you.”
I tried to tune into that aspect of Swami’s innate knowledge of Master and how he wrote that chant, and so when I recorded it, I tried to feel that vibration. I know it works when I’m sitting in the studio after recording, or I start adding other tracks, and I hear the playback. When I can just feel my heart open up, then I know I’ve done my job with that. I felt that many times while making this recording (“Life Is a Dream”).
It’s amazing to me that we are able to tune into that essence. There’s actually a song called “Master’s Radio” that was recorded back in the ’50s or ’60s. It’s really referring to Christ, Jesus being the master, and tuning in to Master’s radio, but I think of it as Master’s (Yogananda’s) or Swami’s radio because they spiritualized each of the chants, sowing them in the ether so that the blessing is still there.
If we tune into Master’s radio or Swami’s radio, we can tune into the actual vibration that they infused into each of these chants. That’s really what I try to do: tune into that vibration and then express it through my playing.
N: Is there anything else you want the listener to know?
P: I think the main thing is to realize that music is just a way to tune into the Divine. Any music we listen to affects us, and so we need to choose the music that we listen to, take responsibility for what we listen to, and tune in to music that’s going to uplift our consciousness and attune us to our highest self and the higher realms. I hope you appreciate the music that I’ve produced, and I hope it can guide you to a higher level of consciousness and intuition.
Interview: May 29, 2020
Complete Interview Video with Panduranga Heater
Complete Interview 28:07 minutes